June 8th, 2010
03:18 AM ET

The rabbi whose question ended Helen Thomas' career

From CNN Senior National Editor Dave Schechter:

Most Americans have never heard of Rabbi David Nesenoff, but they now know his work behind the camera. Nesenoff is an independent filmmaker who asked columnist Helen Thomas the question that brought an end to her decades-long career.

Nesenoff was at the White House on May 27 with a media credential, representing his website www.rabbilive.com, to cover an event marking Jewish Heritage Month. He was accompanied by his 17-year-old son Adam, who also was credentialed – representing his website www.shmoozepoint.com – and a friend of his son.

They had attended a White House news conference at which Thomas, known as the dean of the White House press corps, was one of the reporters to question President Obama. Afterwards, Nesenoff and his son asked various people at the White House – from a TV reporter to a Jewish boxer to visiting rabbis – to offer thoughts on Israel.

It was in the driveway outside the north entrance to the White House where Nesenoff saw Thomas. “Let’s meet her, let’s learn something” Nesenoff recalled telling the boys. “I didn’t remember that she had pro-Palestinian thoughts, anti-Semitic feelings,” he said.

What followed has been viewed online more than one million times on various sites, Nesenoff says.

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” Thomas told them. “Remember, these people are occupied. And it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland’s.”

That answer in and of itself might have caused a minor stir. Regular viewers of White House news conferences over the years have heard her ask questions that betrayed sympathy for the Palestinians, perhaps not surprising for a U.S.-born daughter of Christian immigrants from Lebanon. But Nesenoff followed up by asking where the Jews living in Israel should go.

“They could go home. Poland, Germany,” Thomas replied, “ . . . and America, and everywhere else.”

“I was hurt, I was shocked,” Nesenoff told me. He was less concerned about Thomas’ retirement. “There are bigger issues here,” he said, “of anti-Semitism tied into anti-Israel (sentiment).”

After Nesenoff posted the video online, Thomas apologized in a statement. “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she said “They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

It was not enough to quiet the uproar. Nesenoff is looking for something more personal. “She owes me an apology,” he says. “She owes my son an apology.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Israel • Judaism • Middle East • Politics

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soundoff (1,598 Responses)
  1. yankee

    have we all forgotten that in 1947 the UN gave Israel a nation and they never had one of they own

    June 8, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  2. SpiderCnn

    Bravo Helen Thomas!!

    She is an insightful and brave lady. Not many of her kind exist in our media to tell the truth. Zionist run a media mafia that scares the hell out of our journalists and politicians. Hopefully Helene has broken the ice ...

    June 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  3. Richard

    I wonder what reaction she would have had if she said that the Palestinians needed to get out of there. Probably, a heroes welcome.

    The bottom line is this...There isn't freedom of speech in the US. There is "CONTROLLED FREEDOM OF SPEECH." Just another form of totalitarian regimens.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  4. Scott

    It is a sad day when people can't offer their opinion without fear of getting canned. I would say that millions of Americans probably agree with her.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  5. Larry

    I feel sorry for all the THIN SKINNED people in the world ! He did ask HER opinion ! She is not head of State & did not print her opinion.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  6. A. Krebsbach

    There is no justice in violently taking land that does not belong to you.
    There is no justice in dumping people into slums.
    There is no justice in killing children in the name of security.
    There is no justice in executing unarmed humanitarian workers.
    There is no justice in calling everyone who sees the injustice Anti-Semitic.

    I am an American Citizen who loves my Jewish neighbors. I would die for them.
    I am anti-Terrorism.
    I am anti-Israel.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  7. Karola

    I agreen with Rich, i really have to re-evaluate my support for Israel

    June 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • Heywood Jablowme

      Great idea. We have so many good trusting friends over there that we really should question the allegence of our 1 and only true friend in the peaceful middle east. not sure you remember, 1983, Marine barraks bombing, all of those arabs in the area as well as the cause of the bombing, didnt raise a finger to help. Only those violent mean Jew did. weird.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  8. John

    I feel that in all fairness anyone who says anything negative of the Palestinians should meet as swift and equal a fate as Helen Thomas. Seeing as how FOX News would be an empty building, I guess that won't happen.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  9. Bob Lang

    An elderly woman who had a great career, let a bit of uncensored hatred out! We all are biased, add senility to it.. Well something stupid is said.. I think the message that came out of Ms Thomas mouth reflects the philosophy of denying the rights of another.. The Arabs deny the right of the Jews an idenity, a homeland.. And now The Israelis deny the Palistinian Arabs the same.. There are no answers from an ego perspective.. Both sides have legitimate claims to the same land.. Call it Cannan, Judea, Palestine or Israel.. But again, man can not own the land.. A Thousand years from now , who knows who will live on the land.. In fact, the way humanity is going, there may not be anyone there.. To me, Arabs and Jews are mirriors to themselves. Half brothers through Abraham and still acting like children. If both sides spent as much time in communion with their God, maybe a true answer to this conflict/opportunity could be found.. Otherwise, two forces will continue to destroy each other, themselves.. Their is an answer, but it can't be found in ego!

    June 8, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  10. BIll O.

    I am not anti-Israel or anti-semite. And I can see how Ms. Thomas' comments could be taken as offensive. But still, it's pretty obvious that there cannot be anything like an open, free, honest discussion of the Palestinian issue. Anyone who disagrees with the Israeli party line is branded an anti-semite and run out of town on a rail. Personally, I believe we need an International tribunal to study and decide many of the issues at hand. Did the Palestinians give up their lands in Israel as the Israelis argue? If not, what is to be done to settle the matter without dissolving the state of Israel? The Pro-Israeli legion contend that these issues are "settled" but they are at the heart of the matter.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  11. Chandler02

    Her freedom of speech is NOT being taken away. Her employer (Hersh) forced her to retire...she can still speak, she just doesn't get paid for it. There are too many Americans who confuse the RIGHT of free speech, with the EMPLOYMENT as a speaker. They are two very different things.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • J Harris

      Good point!

      June 8, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  12. william62

    In the name of free speech, we can say whatever we want to about Islam & Muslims, but if we utter a word against Israel, no matter how true it is, we must apologize, get fired from the job & so on. Freedom seems to be for a select few only, with power of money & press!

    June 8, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • al

      I agree...it is double standers and it makes me sick...

      June 8, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  13. Steve

    This is just another tragedy as a result of the politically correct/incorrect. The mistake that Ms Thomas made was not seeing the radical pendulum of today’s press or thinking she could dodge it. The swings from left to right leads to the destruction of us in the middle. Ms Thomas joins the ranks of numerous people in our country whose life time of work will be completely overshadowed by an event in her life. Why could the story not be “89 year old, Dean of white house press core makes surprising statements about Israel”, and our reaction be hell she’s 89 years old. We can’t because we have set the protocol in politics, no do over’s, one strike and your out. Your past accomplishments, good deeds and sacrifices will be relegated to a legacy focused on your last comment. Best wishes to Ms Thomas, Thank you for your service.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Jason Nest

    I disagree with this premise, "Nesenoff is an independent filmmaker who asked columnist Helen Thomas the question that brought an end to her decades-long career". It was not the question but the answer offered up that showed the disdain for Jews living in Isreal. It is hateful and anti-semetic. It is appropriate that she has lost her seat in the room...her verbage is not worthy of the honor of having been seated there for all of these years. Enjoy your self-imposed retirement Ms. Thomas. God Bless.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • Scott

      Why is it automatically anti-semetic to even hint that maybe, just maybe, Israel might have done something wrong in taking some of the land it has now? That's what drives me crazy about this whole thing. I fail to see how what she said is even that bad. It's not like she wished harm upon Jews or disparaged their religion.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  15. Claes

    What I don't get is this... "anti-semitism tied to anti-israel..." It's always assumed that any reasons for critcism against Israel are rationalized anti-semitism. Hence, the arguments are disregarded, and all they want is an apology for being anti-semites. If the israelis don't watch out, there will probably be anti-semistism for the simple reason that people might feel that they might as well. What's the difference between a nazi and Helen Thomas? Well, it's obviously not that one is an anti-semite and the other isn't. Either you're helping out building settlements or you're on the level of a concentration camp guard. According to some that is, of course far from all jews are that silly. I might come off as an Israel hater but really I'm not, I often argue in Israel's favor: I refuse bowing to pressure from any side of becoming completely unquestioning and loyal. And it's the same story from the other side. It's just bs and doesn't lead to anything good.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  16. Mr. Spock

    Helen was right. Get the hell out!

    June 8, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  17. Jalal

    She is brave and an honorable journalist. She speaks the truth and the truth will prevail – NO question about it.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  18. Cris

    If someone asked what one thinks of Christopher Columbus, an the arrival of Europeans in North America, and someone said, that that Europeans should go back to Europe and give the land back to American Indians, no matter how much I thought the opinion was unrealistic, silly, or past its time, I would consider that their opinion, but I would not consider them a bigot.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • Chandler02

      You are forgetting the fact that the vast majority of people living in Israel were BORN there. They do not have another country to go "home" to.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • Abraham

      @Chandler02 – were not a vast majority of current inhabitants of North America of European decent also born in North America?

      June 8, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  19. Gary

    Isreal is the Oasis in the middle of loser Muslim loser alla countries......

    June 8, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  20. Big Joe

    ....and then we find out the rabbi has done a disgusting video in the past stereotyping mexican-americans. Don't hear the ADL condeming the rabbi. Double standard in this country.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
    • toxictown


      June 8, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.